The Bravest Man in the World

Paula Wiseman Bks/S. & S./. Sept. 2019. 56p. photos. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781481494618.
K-Gr 3–Jonathan does not want to practice piano because, as he tells his grandfather, “This is sissy stuff.” He wants to be brave and strong. His grandfather, an accomplished musician himself, responds by telling Jonathan the story of his encounter with the bravest man in the world. When he was young and impoverished, Grandfather learned to play the violin in order to earn money. Running away from some local bullies in his hometown in Ireland, he found himself as a stowaway on the Titanic, and he caught the attention of the ship’s bandmaster, Wallace Hartley, a violinist himself. Hartley provided mentorship over the following days, and Grandfather’s skills blossomed. When the ship hit an iceberg and began to sink, young Grandfather was able to find a place on a lifeboat. Hartley had to stay behind, and although he knew of his imminent demise, he bravely led his musicians in playing music that offered comfort to those trapped on the ship. This fictionalized version of the events surrounding the Titanic’s musicians offers a different perspective of courage than is often depicted; this bravery is less showy and more selfless. The story is told with great warmth and emotion, and Polacco’s trademark expressive illustrations add depth and empathy to the narrative. Back matter includes a brief author’s note about Hartley’s violin, as well as photos of the instrument and the story’s hero.
VERDICT Polacco’s fans will be pleased with this new tale, and so will young Titanic enthusiasts.

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